In this week's BGA, I analyze Week 13 performances by Todd Bowles, Bryce Petty, Bilal Powell, Wesley Johnson and the offensive line, Quincy Enunwa, Muhammad Wilkerson and Darron Lee, and the special teams, among others...
Bent: Having muddled his way through a mostly uneven performance, Bryce Petty finally put together a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. It wasn't pretty and he wasn't perfect, but he made enough plays to keep the chains moving. When the team lined up for a two-point conversion to cut it to a three-point game, Petty kept the ball on a read-option look, wriggled out of an Ahmad Brooks tackle on the edge and corkscrewed into the end zone.
I can break down each of Petty's throws, how he read the defense and his movement in and out of the pocket, but nothing is more of a game-changer than what he showed on that play. Watch out, NFL … Petty has moxie!
The trouble with moxie is that it actually has a negative reputation. Fans associate it with the Brooks Bollingers and Greg McElroys of the world. Displaying moxie means you showed grit and determination to overcome your shortcomings, rather than being seen as something which will help a player's longer-term development as they improve upon their skills.
Maybe Petty will break the mold, but yesterday was never going to be about him establishing himself as a potential starter already. Even if he passed for 500 yards, people would still be attributing that to how weak the opponent was or writing it off as a one-off like Matt Flynn had that one time with the Packers. What this did show us though was that, even if you don't like his chances of one day being an NFL starter, Petty could at least develop into the kind of back-up that won't kill you if forced into short-term action.
Whatever the long-term ramifications of Petty's new-found attribute, the come-from-behind win produced a rare feel-good moment in this lost season. I can't imagine he'd have generated the same exuberant reaction from his teammates if the Jets started well and hung on for a 23-17 win, so the fact they started so poorly may have worked out for the best.
The worst possible start saw the slot cornerback jump the route on Petty's first pass for an easy interception, leading to the go-ahead touchdown on the next play. Starting Petty out with a quick-drop stop route makes some sense in terms of getting him into an early rhythm and setting a platform from which they can do some other things. However, it's exactly what they did the last two times he played and the 49ers were ready for it. Throwing an interception there probably slowed down their plans to gradually open up the playbook for him.
Rather than a bad read, this was probably more a case of Petty underestimating the speed of defensive backs and their ability to quickly diagnose plays at the NFL level. It was probably the biggest welcome-to-the-NFL moment he's had so far, but if it gives him a better idea of what he can and can't get away with and he doesn't repeat the error, that can help his development.
That's essentially what happened over the rest of the game. While he still took a few risks and was inaccurate or late some of the time, Petty didn't repeat that mistake and was turnover-free the rest of the way. He gradually settled into a rhythm and made some confident throws in clutch situations to keep drives alive, notably a fourth down conversion after he kept the play alive in the pocket and a downfield throw across his body after he rolled out to extend the play.
We could nit-pick his performance and numbers in more detail, but the most important takeaways from this game are that Petty built some confidence, the team rallied around him and he absolutely showed progress not just from last week, but also from the start of the game to the end. While it's not lost on me that the win came over a 49ers team that is losing to everyone, the fact that he got the win with a threadbare offensive line, an underperforming defense and some key skill position guys missing is almost enough to counteract that. These next few games will be much tougher, but that's an ideal challenge for him as he tries to keep progressing.
I still don't think these next few games are going to have that much of an impact upon their plans for the position in 2017, but at least it should be more fun to watch over the rest of the season than the alternatives would have been.
Bent: After a curious decision to barely feature Bilal Powell last week, he ended up as the number one back due to a Matt Forté injury early on. Maybe being kept fresh last week helped him because Powell delivered as the number one, rushing for 121 of his 145 yards after half time and scoring two touchdowns including the game winner.
While Powell has only rushed for more than 80 yards one other time in his career, he fell short of his career-high which saw him gain 149 yards in a 2013 win over the Bills. However, he did set career highs in terms of yards from scrimmage (179) and carries (29).
Powell's tough effort to break the plane got the Jets back into the game in the fourth quarter and then he finished it off by breaking into the clear for a 19-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime. He also had four other plays - one on a pass reception - that went for 10 yards or more and did a good job of picking up the blitz.
As impressive as this was, we should not forget that the 49ers have the worst run defense in the NFL, giving up over 170 yards per game and almost five yards per carry. It will therefore be interesting to see how close they can come to repeating that output over the next three weeks. The Jets ultimately gained 13 first downs on the ground, having only had two (both by the since-released CJ Spiller) in the previous game.
Depending on his knee injury, we might not see Forté again this year. He rushed three times for eight yards before going down and missing out on the chance to potentially have a big game himself. If that's it for Forté, he'll end up with a career low in rushing yards (792) and receiving numbers (29-256). He has only averaged 3.7 yards per carry but scored eight touchdowns.
When the Jets made the move to get Forté, I expect they were hoping for him to make a similar impact to that which Brandon Marshall made last year. Clearly, he's fallen well short of that and, while I've been impressed with his effort, he hasn't looked consistently sharp all year and obviously hasn't done enough to fill the leadership void this team apparently has.
The Jets re-signed Khiry Robinson earlier this week, so it will be interesting to see whether he gets a chance over the next few weeks. With him not healthy enough to go this week, recent practice squad promotee Brandon Wilds was called upon to relieve Powell a few times. He gained a couple of yards on each of his two carries, but missed an assignment on a blitz pick-up that led to a sack.
Bent: With Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady and Breno Giacomini all gone from the line-up, this was an interesting match-up with the league's worst run defense. The Jets were able to rush for 188 yards at an average of 4.7 per carry, although there were a lot of runs stuffed at or behind the line. Predictably, pass protection was an issue, as Petty was sacked for the sixth time less than halfway into the third quarter. However, they settled down and kept him clean for the rest of the game, although you might attribute that to Petty himself showing improved pocket presence as his confidence and comfort level grew.
Pro Football Focus have been raving about the performance of Wesley Johnson who has a chance to earn himself some money now that the starting center job is his for the remainder of the season. They assigned him one of the highest run blocking grades a Jets player has achieved all season and didn't attribute any pressure to him. It seems incredible that he's come so far after the Jets basically dumped him last September when Eagles back-up Beau Allen dominated him in the final preseason game.
Johnson's run blocking performance was easily the best we've seen from him this year as he did a good job of controlling the point of attack and blocking in space. He blocked his man to the ground on a few plays and looked particularly good on zone blocking assignments.
While he allowed penetration a couple of times, he did a good job of not getting stood up at the point of attack and only once did he miss a block to allow a run to be blown up. Although PFF gave him a clean bill of health in pass protection, there were three plays in the first half where he allowed his man into the backfield, one of which led to a sack. His man also recorded a half-sack on another first half play, although that was more of a coverage sack, mostly attributable to Petty's indecisiveness.
It's going to be very interesting to see whether he can come close to repeating that performance against three much sturdier defensive fronts over the next three weeks. If he can, that's going to at the very least entice the Jets to give the restricted free agent an original round tender. That would have fifth-round compensation attached to it, if another team signed him to an offer sheet." to "If he can, that's likely to make the Jets consider tendering the restricted free agent, perhaps at the second round level
While he wouldn't accumulate the same kind of run-blocking grades, it was James Carpenter who impressed me the most in the running game. When you get blocked by Carpenter, you stay blocked and he opened up the "Carpal Tunnel" several times on the day, notably on the game-winning touchdown where he walled off the right side of the defensive line with a perfectly executed reach block. On another memorable play, Carpenter pulled left and had to shove Ben Ijalana out of the way before making his block in space.
Ijalana had another rough game in pass protection, as he struggled to hold up against the bull rush and was burned outside by speed rushes a few times, including once for a sack. He also was called for a holding penalty and a false start, although the latter was probably actually on Carpenter (who blamed Petty). Ijalana also struggled in the running game, as he was beaten inside for a tackle in the backfield and badly missed his block in space on an end around that was blown up by his man.
Brian Winters was also flagged once, although it should have been twice, as he was clearly the player to have false started on a penalty announced as being on Brent Qvale. Winters had a slow start but made a good impact in the running game after half time. He was beaten one other time for a pressure.
Qvale was the player I was most interested to see this week, as he was re-inserted into the starting line-up due to Giacomini's injury. Other than Carpenter, Qvale is the only starter from yesterday's patchwork line that is still under contract next year. Early results were not pretty, as Qvale's man knocked him onto his back and finished off the sack on Petty. He settled down in pass protection and ultimately made some positive contributions in the running game, although one of those saw him lucky not to be called for a hold.
Qvale limped off down the stretch, giving us a bonus look at rookie Brandon Shell. Shell showed a couple of flashes, blocking down on his man to drive him to the inside on one play and peeling off a double team to make a second level block on another.
All six of the sacks surrendered came after more than 2.5 seconds, so perhaps they were more attributable to Petty taking too long to get rid of the ball or being prepared to eat the ball rather than risk a mistake. They can mitigate that by getting rid of the ball quickly in future, but as the interception on his first throw showed, the Jets need to avoid being too predictable in doing so.
Bent: Robby Anderson continues to break out, falling just one yard short of his first 100-yard receiving game, although he did surpass 100 yards from scrimmage if you take into account his 12 rushing yards. Anderson looks like he has the potential to become a thousand-yard receiver at the NFL level. He is producing at that level over the past four games with 263 receiving yards.
Anderson's star quality continues to manifest itself, as he made an amazing leaping grab over a defender down the sideline and then set up the game winning score with another tough grab down the field. He also contributed as a blocker on the game-winning touchdown run. He provided his weekly reminder that he's still a rookie, failing to haul in a catchable high throw down the field, but his development continues to be one of the biggest bright spots of this disappointing season.
As good as Anderson's leaping grab was, Quincy Enunwa had him beaten for catch of the day, laying out to get one hand to the ball and tip it to himself for a rolling grab. That looked like it was going to be intercepted but Enunwa's athleticism not only prevented that, but also enabled him to come down with it. Enunwa had a pedestrian three catches for 29 yards, but is really starting to establish himself as a playmaker who can be a option in clutch situations.
Marshall limped his way through most of the second half but that might have been a blessing in disguise as the offense tends to look less one-dimensional when he isn't heavily featured. Marshall still made a nice over the shoulder catch and was unlucky not to be able to get both feet down on another sideline pass.
Charone Peake didn't play much, but came up big on fourth down, staying alive and finding space at the right moment when Petty moved around in the pocket to extend the play. On another play, late in the game, he almost came up with a great low catch, but was unable to prevent the nose of the football from hitting the turf.
Brandon Bostick was injured early in the second half, which is a shame as the Jets have been featuring the tight ends increasingly since Kellen Davis was placed on injured reserve. They combined for 52 yards on five catches yesterday. Bostick had made perhaps the nicest play of his Jets career so far with a diving grab for a first down.
The Jets continue to gradually work Austin Seferian-Jenkins into the mix as had three first down catches, including one where he dragged a couple of tacklers past the marker. Seferian-Jenkins was also open for an easy first down on the play where Petty rolled out in overtime and instead threw downfield to Anderson. He seemed to be the one responsible for the illegal formation penalty that almost knocked the Jets out of field goal range while trailing late though.
Eric Tomlinson has been impressive at times in the running game and on screen passes but he struggled in pass protection and was called for a false start in an inconsistent display yesterday. If Bostick is out, Tomlinson and Seferian-Jenkins complement each other well so each will have a chance to impress over the rest of the season.
Bent: The defense got off to a terrible start this week, giving up a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. That flat start continued until late in the first half as the first five drives ended with two touchdowns and three field goal attempts. The defense galvanized thereafter, though, as the 49ers gained just 113 yards on their next eight drives and never got back inside the Jets' 35-yard line. Colin Kaepernick completed just 4-of-11 passes for 17 yards in the second half, but the run defense was poor throughout, surrendering 248 yards including 155 on Carlos Hyde's most productive five carries.
Something interesting happened down the stretch though.
After the Jets scored to cut the 49ers' lead to 17-14, Muhammad Wilkerson suddenly awoke from a month-long slumber and put together his most dominant series of the season. Todd Bowles recently said that Wilkerson's explosiveness was starting to return, which I was skeptical about, but this was the first evidence of that we've seen since the bye week because he exploded into the backfield three straight times and drew a hold to help force a punt.
Once the Jets got the ball back, I was hoping they would tie the game so we could see if he would continue to take over the game once the 49ers had the ball back, but the Jets came out in a sub-package with Wilkerson not in the line-up. However, in overtime, he again penetrated to help blow up the 4th-and-short run that set up the winning score. He was noticeably fired up at the end of the game when the Jets clinched the win, too.
Wilkerson was in on three run stuffs including one for a loss and had one pressure so the performance still fell well short of what you'd normally expect from him. However, in a week where there have been reports that the Jets are not happy with their leadership, it was encouraging to see him step up and take over the game much as you'd expect him to when healthy.
Wilkerson was a game-time decision, so he's evidently still not 100%. That could lead some to suggest that he only performed better because he was motivated to give a good effort, thereby exposing the fact that he hadn't been giving the same kind of effort over the past several games. Whatever the reason, which could include an improved comfort level within the role he had yesterday, it was a reminder of the kind of dominant player Wilkerson was before this year and hopefully a sign that he's on his way back to being that kind of player again.
Despite Wilkerson's struggles, Leonard Williams has been consistently productive and added to his team-leading sack total with another half sack yesterday. However, it was a worryingly ineffective performance from Williams who was driven off the line several times and didn't have a tackle in the running game until the last minute of regulation. He added a couple of pressures, but overall it was his least productive game of the season and had me worried that he'd been afflicted with the same malaise that seems to have held back Wilkerson over the last month or so.
Sheldon Richardson is another player whose inconsistent production has been troubling, but he made some good plays yesterday, including a tackle in the backfield to force a punt before the Jets tied the game. He also added three pressures as a pass rusher.
With Steve McLendon out again, it would be easy to attribute the 49ers rushing success to that, but Deon Simon showed significant promise in his place. Williams, Wilkerson and Richardson were all driven off the line a few times, but Simon held up much better. He drew a holding penalty with penetration, had one effective bull rush as a pass rusher and was in on four run stuffs including the fourth down stop in overtime.
Simon didn't see action until half-way through the second quarter and while things definitely improved thereafter, he was on the field on four of Hyde's six longest runs. Nevertheless, the promise he showed on some of the plays he made is something to build on heading into next season.
Finally, Anthony Johnson was in for a few snaps and got into the backfield well on one pass rush attempt.
Bent: Darron Lee is one of the players you'd most like to see encouraging signs from over the final month of the season. However, for the second week in a row, he had a rough first half. Lee had three missed tackles - a season high - before half-time and found himself caught inside on several running plays. He was also beaten for a big gain down the seam.
However, after half time, he avoided any more mistakes and, although he had a quiet game in terms of impact plays, it was good to see that progress, especially after a first half that almost had me wishing Julian Stanford was still on the roster. Almost.
David Harris had a solid game alongside Lee, leading the Jets in tackles and getting in on a handful of stops at or near the line. He also added one pressure. Harris was blocked out of a couple of plays at the second level in the first half, but seemed to avoid blocks better thereafter.
Rookie Jordan Jenkins continues to provide the Jets with solid play, but this week it was good to see him starting to make more impact-type plays. He stuffed one run, tracked a receiver out to the flat for a big hit and picked up half a sack, the first of his career, on a blitz up the middle. It wasn't a mistake-free performance from Jenkins though, as he lost contain once and tackled the wrong guy on a read-option play.
Mike Catapano started, but was once again ineffective. He also lost contain on one run. By the end of the game, Freddie Bishop - who was recently activated off the practice squad - was getting reps ahead of him and flashed some playmaking ability when he forced a fumble on a running play. He also had one pressure and was in on a run stop. Bishop also jumped offside on third down and he lost contain once, although that looked like a hold.
Bruce Carter saw some brief action on defense, but the Jets instead opted to use Doug Middleton - another player recently activated off the practice squad - in a sub-package linebacker role. Middleton, who is a safety by trade, brought good energy as he had a pressure and was in on a run stuff, but also seemed to be slightly out of position in coverage on a couple of plays underneath.
Bent: The most significant development in the secondary this week - other than the injuries to Marcus Gilchrist and Buster Skrine - was the fact that Juston Burris seems to have moved ahead of Darryl Roberts on the depth chart.
Burris, the rookie selected in the fourth round of April's draft, had looked shaky in limited action to this point, but has obviously been developing in practice because the team gave him an extensive workload and he responded well. Skrine's injury probably elevated him from fourth corner into the nickel back role so he perhaps played more than originally planned, but he responded well either way. Roberts was limited to special teams action.
Burris forced three punts with a break-up and two open field tackles on third down and was in good position on one other play in coverage. Kaepernick was 1-for-6 on passes beyond 10 yards down the field with only one of those more than 20 yards and the only completion being down the seam to a tight end so the 49ers never really tested Burris or any of the other corners. Nevertheless, it was still a positive sign to see him hold up so well.
Marcus Williams was making his return and contributed a first half sack. He didn't give up anything in coverage although he was a little fortunate on two plays where he was half-beaten and the pass was inaccurate.
Prior to getting injured, Skrine had been having a rough game as he was dragged into the end zone on the first play, called for defensive holding once and burned for a big gain across the field by Jeremy Kerley.
Darrelle Revis had a really quiet game as the 49ers simply didn't look his way until late in the game, when Revis broke up a slant pattern. That's sufficient to make this one of his best games of the season, which for $17 million a year obviously isn't good enough.
Gilchrist's injury looked bad and probably means he's unlikely to be fully available for most of next year's offseason workouts. He had a couple of touchdown saving tackles but gave up a first down in coverage and missed a couple of tackles. It was noticeable that he was coaching the likes of Middleton on the field so it's going to be a challenge for the secondary to cope back there without him. Nevertheless, they held up well without him so it could end up being something that forces Calvin Pryor or Rontez Miles to take on more of a quarterback-of-the-secondary role which could serve to accelerate their development.
Pryor had a pretty quiet game, although he came close to making a few plays when he missed a tackle in the backfield and botched an attempt to recover a fumble. Miles was even quieter but avoided any obvious mistakes.
Bent: Nick Folk made a big contribution this week, nailing a late game-tying field goal from over 50 yards away. Folk was 3-for-3 as Phil Dawson uncharacteristically missed twice for the 49ers, otherwise the Jets probably would have lost.
Rookie punter Lac Edwards continues to struggle though. He landed five of his six punts inside the 20 which sounds good, but actually none of those were landed inside the 10 and three of them were at the 19 or 20-yard line. Four of his six punts were less than 40 yards and he hasn't had a net punt of 45 yards since the second quarter of the Rams game - four weeks and 19 punts ago.
With the Jeremy Ross experiment over and Jalin Marshall still out, Nick Marshall took over return duties. He looked relatively comfortable fielding punts, although let's not forget that he muffed one against the Jets while playing for Jacksonville last year. Marshall didn't have much success, but looked sharp on the opening kick-off when his 53-yard runback was called back due to a hold.
That hold came courtesy of new addition Arthur Brown who was making his Jets debut. With six players ruled out due to injury, all of the new guys had to suit up, otherwise the Jets would have had to activate Christian Hackenberg. Later on, Josh Martin was also assessed a penalty for holding.
The Jets were also lucky on one punt where the ball almost deflected off Peake's leg as he was blocking the gunner.
In coverage, the Jets held up well with Miles and Carter combining on a good special team stop. Burris overpursued and missed the tackle on a punt though. He does a great job of getting downfield but still needs to improve his technique when breaking down. It was good to see Devin Smith out there as a gunner too, although he played just one offensive snap.